Ancient Traditions of Polynesian Navigation
Map of the Stars
Winds, Waves and Clouds
The Polynesians navigated basically from the east to the west, against the winds and the marine currents. They would carefully observe the wind, whether it came from the stern or the side, from the quadrant or against. From that they could configure a map of the winds. The ocean swells and whether they came from the bow, the side or the stern were also important information.
Sea Birds, Whales and Dolphins
All that floats, swims or flies can also be an important indicator. As a rule, sea birds will leave their nests at dawn to begin their search for food, but they always return to dry land. Since birds tend to fly in a concentric circle, but different species have different radii, it’s possible to determine the distance to an island by recognizing the type of bird being observed. For some tribes in New Zealand, whales and dolphins were indicators of the great marine currents. Whales hunt and feed in the turbulent waters where powerful currents meet and fight each other, so to spot whales was an omen of serious danger. Dolphins were appreciated because they tend to appear in more tranquil waters and stable currents.
The old traditional knowledge of navigation was carefully guarded by the families of the navigators and passed from generation to generation, until it began to die out around 1500 A.D., not much later than the colonization of New Zealand. The Polynesians were skilled navigators, adventurers and inherent nomads. They trusted their abilities and their resistance to find the land which called to them beyond the sunrise.
In the month of February of 1960, my family and I arrived on the Chilean naval transport AKA “Pinto” to take the position of Governor of Easter Island. During my excursions to get to know the Island, I arrived at the beach of Anakena, which I must recognize, at that time, was a sandy desert with a shepherd’s hut on the southeastern side surrounded by a bit of green and some bushes which made it look like an oasis.
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